Stephen Harper insisted last week that we will not be intimidated by terrorism. He then did everything he could to ensure we will be intimidated by terrorism.
I've always been confused by the assertion that we won't be intimidated by terrorism. Has anyone ever suggested that we should be intimidated by terrorism, that because a man ran into the Parliament buildings brandishing a rifle, we should abandon parliamentary democracy?
But Harper wants us to be sufficiently intimidated that we will allow the fight against "terrorism" to take centre-stage and suck up all our energy -- unlike, say, threats that are just as likely or more likely to kill us, like Ebola or climate change. (These threats don't much interest Harper. He's made only made a small contribution to fighting the Ebola epidemic; and he's actively obstructed attempts to organize global action against climate change.)
Not so with terrorism, which dominated the political agenda all this week, with lots of hype about Canada and our institutions being under attack -- even as there was growing difficulty in explaining the difference between the "terrorist" murders of two soldiers and the non-terrorist murders of three RCMP officers in Moncton. The main difference appeared to be that the Moncton murderer was not a follower of Islam, so didn't fit into the government's terrorist category.
The real danger is that we will be intimidated -- not by terrorists or mentally ill killers, but by Stephen Harper -- into accepting an aggressive "war on terror" agenda. Those who don't jump on board will soon be reminded: if you're not fighting terrorism, you're with the terrorists.
Under this kind of pressure, Canadians may end up accepting an agenda that we've wisely resisted in the past, and that most Canadians regard as a failure.
It's worth recalling that Stephen Harper tried to push Canadians into George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Canadians (and Americans) now overwhelmingly regard that invasion as a disaster, and believe western interventions to fight terrorism have only made the world more dangerous, according to pollster Frank Graves.
Graves points to what Canadians would like to see instead: "Overwhelmingly, Canadians want to see their leaders re-think their reliance on military and security-oriented approaches to the terrorist threat, in favour of approaches more in keeping with our core values as a nation."
Well, we can pretty much forget about that.
Already, the Harper government has moved to beef up the surveillance and police powers of the state.
This is always worrisome, but particularly so under this government, which has aggressively used state power, including invasive tax audits to harass charities -- notably environmental charities -- that have opposed government policies.
In fact, the Harper government has gone so far as to suggest some charities have terrorist links.
As the late Jim Flaherty said, "there are some terrorist organizations, there are some organized crime organizations that launder money through charities, and make donations to charities."
What new measures then might the Harper government use to spy on or clamp down on allegedly terrorist-connected environmental groups that threaten to derail its pipeline agenda?
In the new anti-terror atmosphere, we can also expect plenty of pressure to fall in line when it's time to extend the six-month bombing mission in Iraq; curtailing it, after all, would be giving in to terrorists, practically coddling them.
Certainly there will be little tolerance for arguments like the one advanced this week by Ron Paul, the maverick former Republican presidential candidate, who noted that Canada's past avoidance of U.S. military interventions was wise: "staying out of other people's wars makes a country more safe."
Of course, risking our safety can be justified -- if the war is justified and worth fighting.
But the danger is that we won't even have a chance to properly assess our bombing mission in Iraq.
Any attempt at thoughtful evaluation will be pre-empted by the need to show resolve against terror, to remain in lock-step with our anti-terror allies. We'll end up less safe, not because we've concluded that bombing Iraq is a good idea, but because we've been attacked by "terrorists" and need to show them we won't be intimidated.
During the war in Afghanistan, commentators used to say that if there were a lot of casualties, Canadians would turn against the war.
But the government did its best to tar those who did, including "Taliban Jack" Layton, who dared to urge negotiations.
As the government cranked up anthems and paraded coffins down the "Highway of Heroes," we were urged to believe that each new casualty was a reason for staying -- lest the fallen soldier had died in vain.
And so Canada stayed in Afghanistan for more than a decade, even though only 16 per cent of Canadians now regard that intervention as a success.
Hopefully this time we actually won't be intimidated -- by terrorists, the mentally ill, or those trying to push us into perpetual war.
Winner of a National Newspaper Award, Linda McQuaig has been a reporter for the Globe and Mail, a columnist for the National Post and the Toronto Star and author of seven bestsellers, including Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and other Canadian Myths and It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet. Her most recent book (co-written with Neil Brooks) is The Trouble with Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World, and How We Can Take It Back.
This article is reprinted with permission from iPolitics
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